Germany, Italy ready to help with sea enforcement of Libya arms ban

Germany and Italy stand ready to help with new efforts to cut the illicit flow of weapons into Libya, their respective defence ministers said Wednesday, a day after the UN Security Council gave its blessing to the move.

The UN authorization will allow the European Union to proceed with plans for its naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea, code-named Operation Sophia, to start helping with the enforcement of an arms embargo on Libya.

There are concerns that Islamic State militants in the country are being supplied via the Mediterranean.

The EU had set up Operation Sophia last year to patrol international waters off Libya and arrest suspected migrant smugglers. In addition to the new task of enforcing the arms embargo, the EU would also like to see the naval mission start training Libya's coastguard.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is now expected to work out the final details.

"We will await this planning, but will then quickly examine how Germany can contribute," German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told journalists in Brussels on the margins of a NATO meeting.

"There is an excellent predisposition on the part of all the European countries to answer positively," Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti added. "We obviously are available."

The NATO military alliance is also looking at how it could support Operation Sophia, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

"Our military authorities will soon make recommendations on this," he said, adding that they would take into consideration the UN authorization.

NATO could help with the training of Libya's coastguard, sources said on condition of anonymity. The alliance is already present in the Mediterranean Sea with its Active Endeavour anti-terrorism operation and with a mission to curb migrant trafficking in the Aegean Sea.

But NATO action in Libya could prove sensitive, as the alliance was accused of overstepping its mandate during the 2011 bombing campaign in the north African country that helped overthrow long-time dictator Moamer Gaddafi.

Stoltenberg has said that any NATO action would have to be requested by the country.

Conflict-ridden Libya has been gripped by political turmoil since Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. According to the United Nations, there are 20 million pieces of weaponry in Libya, which has a population of 6 million people.

"A country like Libya, which is in such a fragile situation, cannot continue to be flooded with weapons," von der Leyen said.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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